Finding the Right Pellets

During a recent correspondence I was challenged by Stephen Archer (Archer Airguns), to alter my writing style and incorporate a more “How to” approach in order to help my readers to become better, more efficient hunters.

I was contemplating doing this, well more to the point “How to” do this when I realized that I do this myself all the time. I am always looking for that one thing that will help me be a better hunter. Whether it is a trip to the range to practice, or trying different pellets to see what groups better, or sitting at my computer looking for tips and tricks on stalking, or building a better blind.

You see everyone who gets an air rifle wants to get right out there and start enjoying the sport, but in the case of a hunter there is more to it then just running around shooting everything that moves. A hunter should first be able to hit what he/she is aiming at with some degree of accuracy so there is not a trail of wounded animals left behind in the woods. Training is an essential part of hunting. I am not talking a lifestyle change here so relax. Training for the hunt can be some target practice on a backyard range, or in a basement. Target practice anywhere you can safely do it, but practice you must and often.

Each rifle is different, and although they all claim accuracy once “sighted in” it is not the rifle you rely on to put food on the table, or rid the barnyard of pests, it is you.

Try different pellets in your rifle to see what gives you the best grouping. Remember that getting the highest velocity “FPS” is not always the best thing to do.

I could explain the properties of the diablo pellet shape here, but I will do that in another article. For now I will say that faster is not always better. Consistency, accuracy and terminal energy are all far more important to the hunter.

I had been researching the Ballistics “Flight” properties of sabot rounds typically used in muzzleloaders and considering trying some in my Sam Yang 909 .45 caliber air rifle.


I am always looking for something that will give me an edge when hunting, better flight characteristics or greater damage on impact. Try different pellets until you find what works best and will make your hunting more efficient and humane.

So after some research I purchased some 195gr. Barnes ExpanderMZ bullets. These are 100% copper hollow point bullets .40 caliber in a .45 caliber plastic sabot.

barnes barnes_expander_bullet

While I don’t expect to pick up any FPS by shooting these, I was interested in the claim of better penetration and rapid expansion on impact.

Now I do realize that .45 is a very large caliber for an air rifle, and that it already has more than enough power to take down the animals I typically hunt with it, but even the most practiced hand can slip once in a while. I do spend a lot of time shooting both at the range and afield, but in the excitement of the hunt, shooting from all kinds of contortionist positions a less then perfect shot now and then is inevitable.

Looking for better bullets can help ensure that if a less then perfect shot does happen, the animals suffering will be avoided, or at least lessened. A hunter should always try to take game in the most humane way possible.

I normally use this air rifle for wild hogs and mouflon sheep, and occasionally for coyotes. Medium sized game on open ground 50yrds to 100yrds, I don’t shoot more than 100yrds when hunting, at that range there is too much opportunity for things to go wrong and I would rather let the animal go until next time then have it out there suffering because I made a bad decision. An improvement in penetration, or terminal damage could really help, especially at longer ranges.

So off I go to the local range to do some impact testing. As I said with the weight of these bullets (195gr.) I am not looking for more speed, I will be looking at accuracy and the amount of damage they do to the target.

I set out a standard 2×6 behind which I place a concrete block. I expect the bullet will have no trouble at all getting through the wood, but I would like to see what kind of damage we get to the block behind it. I am shooting at 50yrds, so my ballistics calculator tells me I should get approx. 206 ft/lbs given a speed of approx. 730fps.

First up, the Barnes ExpanderMZ bullets. Each of the three shots completely penetrated the wood 2×6 (no surprise there), but they only penetrated the concrete block about ¼”.

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Next up Precision Rifle’s QT pure lead with ballistic tip sabot in .45 caliber, 180 grains.


Again no surprise that they went right through the wood, however these seemed to do considerable damage to the wood as they passed through, where the Barnes bullets did not. As with the Barnes bullets the penetration into the concrete was limited to ¼” to 3/8” at approximately 190 ft/lbs of energy.

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Lastly the ammo I had been using thus far. The Hornady .454 round ball. I had been using this ammo, because in my initial testing I found that it grouped much tighter than any of the other pellets I tried and at approx 122gr weight, I picked up a few fps and a flatter trajectory in the process, but back to my testing.

First shot with the round ball went completely through the wood and dented the block like the others. Second shot split the wood and broke the block. Third shot (block only as second shot destroyed wood) Block destroyed.

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So my findings are that although the sabot rounds look awesome, and may indeed work awesome in an inline muzzleloader, they are underwhelming when used in a Sam Yang 909 rifle.

I find it ironic that what seems to work best in this rifle is also the least expensive to buy.

Again, keep trying different pellets / techniques to become a better more efficient hunter. Learn to shoot well, learn to estimate distance, shoot from all positions, practice stalking techniques and tracking skills. Learn the habits and needs of your quarry. These are all things that make up a good hunter. We owe it to our prey to learn all we can about them and make the most humane choices when it comes to hunting.

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